Falling in Love

You don’t fall in love like you fall in a hole. You fall likefalling through space. It’s like you jump off your own private planet to visit someone else’s planet. And when you get there it all looks different: the flowers, the animals, the colours people wear. It is a big surprise falling in love because you thought you had everything just right on your own planet, and that was true, in a way, but then somebody signalled to you across space and the only way you could visit was to take a giant jump. Away you go, falling into someone else’s orbit and after a while you might decide to pull your two planets together and call it home. And you can bring your dog. Or your cat. Your goldfish, hamster, collection of stones, all your odd socks. (The ones you lost, including the holes, are on the new planet you found.)

And you can bring your friends to visit. And read your favourite stories to each other. And the falling was really the big jump that you had to make to be with someone you don’t want to be without. That’s it.

PS You have to be brave.

–Jeanette Winterson, answering why do we fall in love?” in Big Questions from Little People: and Simple Answers from Great Minds

Own it: Authenticity

Rain clouds loomed outside as I sat across from my spiritual advisor, Br. Robert, in the simple room. “You have to own it,” he said. “You’re an artist. Own it.”

He talked about his early years as a friar. The other friars didn’t think much of his penchant for painting, forcing Br. Robert to sacrifice his own time, money, and space for it. At one point, he even tried to suppress the urge because it interfered so much with his religious duties. Just as Thomas Merton complained about his “double” as a writer pestering him during his early years with the Trappists, Br. Robert struggled with the artist fighting for expression from within.

When he left the friars–and the Catholic Church for a time–Brother Robert lived on Skid Row, trying to make his work as an artist. He found a deep, resonant calling. Surviving on rice and beans–tuna fish, when he could afford it–he scraped by, but his art taught him his vows better than his stint with the friars. Poverty. Obedience. Chastity. The words clarified as the years wore on.

For Br. Robert, devotion to art proved a devotion to God.

“Own it,” he had said. The words made sense as he said them, but didn’t resonate. As the years has pass, the words Br. Robert and I shared deepen and clarify, like his vows. Tempered and stretched by experience, his wisdom grows. I understand him now.

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Reflections in an empty cafe

Okay, so the cafe isn’t quite empty. It’s got a few green-shirted workers sweeping the

Cafe La Verna, as pictured on St. Bonaventure’s site.

floor and standing around balancing on their heels. But it’s almost empty.

A gray drizzle shadows the campus outside and a warm fire flickers nearby, giving the illusion of warmth. Most of the students have left for break or are elbow-deep in packing. I’m staying to work and reflect. It’s been a busy few weeks and I need to catch my breath, write my thesis, and sort out my post-graduation life.

A few thoughts swirl in my head. Last fall, I sat in this same cafe for 12 hours. It’s a campus-bound Starbucks with earthy colors and cozy chairs called La Verna, a place where time slips away unnoticed and people pass through like birds in migration. Grounded there for so long, I felt like a rock watching the seasons change.

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Stars and Broken Seashells

I haven’t posted in a while. I apologize. Life has a nasty way of putting things we enjoy doing to the edge of our days. But, in any case…

Raindrops slapped the tinted leaves and rolled onto the path, now dyed black by moisture. I kept my hood down, sheltered by leaves, and took in the ruddy hills and open fields, the trees around me sighing with the weight of rain.

The air was wet and subdued, while a rumpled gray spanned the sky, tucked into the horizon like an old blanket. I could feel things slowing down, fall coming, a dimming twilight before winter, the air changing.

I started talking Sunday walks–once per week–after I stopped going to church last fall. The empty ritual and hollow chants didn’t nourish me. I figured a walk in the woods held promise, unbound by the time-soaked labels of the Latin Rite and the Christian cannon.

Even if I didn’t call it God, something in nature holds the same transcendent immanence for me–even if it’s just an illusion of experience. It’s something I can cling to and feel cradled in.

I also use my walk as a time to think. Today was no exception.

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Echoes and identity

I’ve been reading Camus’ preface to Jean Grenier’s The Islands, published in 1959. Like much of Camus’ later work–he died Jan. 4, 1960–the preface is nostalgic, yet mature.

The Allegheny River Trail at dusk, taken by me.

Grenier’s book proved a major influence on Camus as a young man. In return, Camus dedicated his first collection of essays The Wrong Side and the Right Side and The Rebel to Grenier.

In the preface, Camus describes how he felt when he first started reading Grenier’s The Islands:

A garden of incomparable wealth was finally opening up to me; I had just discovered art. Something, someone was stirring dimly within me, longing to speak. Reading one book, hearing one conversation, can provoke this rebirth in a young person. One sentence stands out from the open book, one word still vibrates in the room [. . .] Already, at the same moment, in response to this perfect language, a timid, clumsier song rises from the darkness of our being.

Reading The Islands pushed Camus to be a writer. Other books aided the decision, but as Camus says in his preface, only The Islands lingered. It transformed his worldview, and he continued to quote it for the rest of his life, repeating the phrases as if they were his own.

There are moments, words, people that define who we are, that consume us like kindling in a violent flash. From there, we rebuild on a new foundation. But the fire never burns down. It continues to smolder.

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Crinkled, old books

The school library gives away excess books, usually obscure philosophy titles that have lingered on shelves for years, dusted with age and the prints of wizened grad students. Wednesday, they had a table full. I survey the jumbled piles on a table by the main entrance, pluck and shuffle them as I scan the titles.

Now and then, I open one. The binding crinkles, as if glued into place, and the yellowed pages exhale their pale aroma, a warm, dusty tang that has always reminded me of cigars and cedar wardrobes.

I can’t help but steal a few: some Heidegger, Dostoevsky, a Kaufmann anthology of Existentialist writings. I slip the delicate volumes into my backpack and continue.

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Stoicism

By eighth grade, most guys find girls. I found Stoicism. Girls came later.

Zeno of Citium (c. 334 B.C.-c. 262 B.C.), founder of Stoicism, depicted by Raphael. Picture from Wikipedia.

In eighth, I read my first philosophy book–a brisk, colorful introduction called Get a Grip on Philosophy by Neil Turnbull. The recycled-paper pages reminded me of paper bags,  and its binding soon faded from many rereadings on bus rides home.

In the section about Hellenistic philosophy–the period following Aristotle–Turnbull wrote, “the Stoics didn’t lose their sense of wonder” and described a Stoic as “a person who advocates an ethic of resilience in the face of adversity; a believer in cosmopolitan politics.”

There were a few paragraphs , not much else. Still, Stoicism made an impression. It’s focus on reason, morality, and tranquility had roots in my personality, and the idea of being a cosmopolitan, “a citizen of the cosmos,” sounded fascinating.

So I converted.

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